I often arrive in a foreign city without proper walking shoes. I do arrive with a full complement of cultual ignorance, lack of historical perspective and dearth of the local lexicon. That said, it allows me to embrace the place full-heartedly (not unlike “wholeheartedly” but with a truer sense of wonder and possibility). Which means I learn on the road, so to speak; I soak in every signpost, every cobblestone, every plaque and menu and face, and, when no one’s looking, I mouth the foreign words until they start to make sense to me. I find a city’s river and follow it as far as my feet can take me in inappropriate but stylish shoes (it’s easier not to get lost that way).
This time, my third visit to Rome, I finally visited the Vatican and saw the Sistine Chapel. What can one say, except that it truly is not to be missed. The immense accumulation of world-class art borders on vulgarity but it’s nice to have it all in one place. Apart from the dizzying Sistine Chapel, which you reach after traipsing about seven miles — each room more resplendent than the next and each bearing a sign promising “Sistine Chapel This Way” — my favorite room contained dozens of animal statuary (birds and goats and wolves) that was so very Narnia. I also took a walk AWAY from the tourist spots north of my hotel on Via Piave and found a secret garden that looked so beautiful. I walked all the way around it but tragicallly could never get in — it was a Monday, someone’s tomb is in there, and Monday’s are bad days for anything remotely resembling a museum or monument.
Other highlights included reconnecting with a great friend, visiting the new MAXXI, Museo Nazionale delle Arte del XXI Secolo (National Museum of 21st Century Art), which was highly entertaining; an afternoon in Trastevere; a few good meals including a memorable dorado; and hitting a funky flea market (where I finally found the shoes I was looking for).